The World Health Organization (WHO) states that "mental health is an integral part of health; indeed, there is no health without mental health." WHO defines "health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."
Only in the last decade have people been talking more openly about mental illness and it wasn't until September 2010 when Bell Let's Talk began a conversation about mental health in Canada. Still, only 23 percent of Canadians feel comfortable talking to their employer about their mental illness for fear of facing discrimination or dismissal. (source: Mental Health Commission of Canada)
This January 31 marks the next Bell Let's Talk Day. Its website also provides a free toolkit with a conversation guide and a PDF with five ways to create a mentally healthy workplace.
While the annual campaign shines a spotlight on mental health and contributes 5 cents from every text, call, tweet, Instagram post, Facebook video view and Snapchat geofilter to mental health initiatives, the other 364 days of the year deserve equal focus and commitment to this growing issue.
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, 21.4 percent of the working population in Canada currently experience mental health problems and illnesses.
The effects on individuals include heart problems, back pain, cancers, infections, impaired learning and memory, substance abuse, aggression and conflict and other injuries and illnesses. Mental illness represents 30 percent of all short and long-term disability claims. By 2020, the second leading cause of disability worldwide is estimated to be depression.
The effects on workplaces are both financial and productivity-related. Mental health problems carry a price tag of $57.5 billion dollars annually in healthcare costs, lost time and work disruptions. They result in an increase of insurance premiums, health and benefit costs, recruitment costs as well as absenteeism and presenteeism
Healthy workplace habits
Each year, it seems employers offer more training, communications and wellness programs to include mental health awareness and for good reason. Mental illness affects 1 in 4 adults where only 36 percent of those reporting a mental illness receive treatment.
Employers can help by establishing and maintaining a supportive work environment where roles and expectations are clearly defined, where conflict resolution practices are communicated and enforced and where mental well-being is integrated as part of the organizational culture and structure.
Strategies to consider.
Along with custom strategies we work with our clients to implement, Bell Let's Talk and PwC suggest specific approaches and resources to consider.
Bell Let's Talk suggests:
- downloading and adopting the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace at www.csa.ca/z1003 to help safeguard employees’ mental health;
- Using the Action Guide for Employers to help put the Standard into action and encouraging executive leadership to make mental health a workplace priority; and
- Training managers and employees in Mental Health First Aid so they can spot problems early and provide initial help (visit www.mhfa.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org)
According to the PwC report, Creating a Mentally Health Workplace, a mentally healthy workplace requires an organization to implement all 5 of the following strategies:
The more employers are willing to develop strategies to support employee resiliency where mental health topics are discussed openly, the greater the opportunity for vibrant, thriving and productive workplaces. The benefits of a workplace focus on mental health awareness and mental fitness programs include increased productivity, employee retention and engagement.
We'd like to start a conversation with you on this topic and invite you to contact us. We're always here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
With 34 million people living in Canada, you might be surprised that 7 million of them will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime. Of that number, 4 million will experience mood and anxiety disorders specifically. Notably, 8 per cent of the 7 million will experience major depression at some point in their life. (source: Statistics Canada)
Mental Illness Affects the Workplace.
What might be even more alarming from an employer perspective is that 44 per cent of workers report they have or have had mental health issues. On any given week, at least 500,000 employed Canadians are unable to work due to mental illness. (source: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health). Almost $20 billion is reported from workplace losses with the leading cause of disability being mental illness. (source: Speech of the Hon. Michael Kirby on Workplace Mental Health, mentalhealthcommission.ca)
Knowing these statistics doesn't make solving the problem any easier. While employers are paying more attention to the importance of mental health awareness in the workplace, there are a few issues at play that work against their efforts -- 1) many employees don't feel comfortable or safe talking about mental health issues with their employers. In fact, 77 per cent of them fear it. 2) Even with all the efforts placed on promoting mental health awareness, a stigma about mental health still exists. This stigma creates a tremendous barrier for those who need to seek treatment.
What can we do?
Education is likely the most obvious and most effective way of raising awareness, eliminating the stigma and reducing the fear of seeking help.
Specific mental health promotion ideas include:
1) Remind employees about the Employee Assistance Program and that it is free for them to use as well as being a highly confidential service.
2) Revisit what's available through your benefits and wellness program. Are the opportunities to learn about sleep issues, tips for being more mindful or the mental health benefits or proper nutrition and regular exercise?
What is your benefits claims experience like? Are you seeing an increase in prescription drugs to treat anxiety, mood disorders and major depression? Are there changes in the number of short and or long-term disability claims? What fluctuations are you experiencing in absenteeism?
3) Encourage flexible work schedules to reduce stress. Work/life balance issues especially for working parents with elder-care commitments piled onto their plate can make for heightened levels of stress that can easily spill into the workplace. Trusting employees and providing greater flexibility is reported to create higher quality work and greater productivity.
4) Continue to promote mental health tips regularly and just in time. Everyone benefits from reminders and it doesn't need to take a lot of time or effort to do so. There are resources such as Work Place Strategies for Mental Health where you can sign up for free weekly newsletters. They include sharable video clips or tips about mental health that take as little as 5 minutes to watch or read.
5) Promote anti-stigma. One way to do this is by displaying the blue elephant that is the symbol for the "Elephant in the Room", national anti-stigma campaign. Displaying the blue elephant lets everyone know it's a safe place to speak about any mental health issues and that the employee coming forward will be treated with respect and dignity. On the MDSC site, there are key activities that help promote ways to reduce stigma. You can print off the free blue elephant poster too.
It affects us all.
Whether directly or indirectly, mental health issues of some form or another affect us all. Doctor-diagnosed mental health issues that last longer than 2 weeks in duration affect 1 in 3 people. These numbers may be low given the fear people have about sharing their mental health issues. What employers might see is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to recognizing the prevalence of mental health issues that might exist in their workplace. While it might be difficult to know what you're facing, it is easy to promote mental health awareness with so many free education tools and resources available.
We'd like to work with you to examine your claims experience. Data, even at an aggregate level, can tell a powerful story and offer insights into ways you can support your employees. We invite you to contact us and further the conversation. We have decades of experience and many valuable resources that we're ready to put to work for you. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
There was a time when top health issues in Canada were more physical in nature and relatively easy to identify. They ranged from musculoskeletal disorders to high blood pressure. In the last few years, more discrete and difficult to easily identify illnesses such as depression, anxiety and stress disorders top our country’s health issue charts.
When Morneau Shepell conducted their second annual national mental health survey in the fall of 2015, they received responses from over 1000 employees, 100 employers and 100 physicians. The report revealed that mental health issues and extreme stress — both workplace and personal — negatively impact an employee’s work.
The facts pertaining to mental health in the workplace continue to demonstrate staggering financial implications. In 2013, the Mental Health Commission of Canada reported that of the total economic burden caused by mental illness in Canada, $20 billion of the $51 billion per year relates directly to workplace losses due to disability claims, absenteeism and lost productivity. This data also highlights that 500,000 Canadians are unable to work in any given week due to mental health issues with 20% wrestling with mental health issues in any given year. The Morneau Shepell report highlights that mental health absenteeism is significantly underreported. This means that 500,000 Canadians unable to work in any given week due to mental health issues might actually be significantly higher.
Knowing the facts is important. It generates the need for further conversations about what is actually happening in the workplace and the importance of understanding organizational culture. Culture isn’t something you can see on the surface, it is felt and experienced by the employees who work in an organization. Similarly, workplace stress might not appear like a broken arm or someone recovering from surgery. It can be more difficult to identify. The Morneau Shepell report highlights that 60% of respondents said emotional/interpersonal issues were a source of workplace stress; these issues correspond directly to workplace culture. In the past, leaders were trained to bring greater attention to ensuring workers have a safe environment to work and the right equipment to do their jobs effectively. While these needs remain important, they ranked only at 14% as a cause of workplace stress in the Morneau Shepell report.
Emotional/interpersonal workplace stresses may also be triggered by the behaviour of the person’s direct supervisor, their colleagues as well as feelings of isolation. Perhaps surprisingly, these stressors proved to be far more prominent than any stress generated by deadlines or a dislike for one’s job.
As workplace stress and mental health issues continue to rise, action can be taken to stem the tide. The 2015 Morneau Shepell report demonstrates that employees would benefit from managers knowing what to do when an employee shows signs of distress.
Leader training on mental health can address the fear employees have about bringing their issues forward. Many report fearing the existing stigma associated with mental health. Removing the unhealthy barriers preventing services from being accessed and much needed help provided can be achieved through this type of specific management training.
Equipping front-line supervisors can be achieved through the implementation of an in-house program or through working with external vendors who provide the framework and/or the training itself.
The key components to a leader’s mental health training program include:
Training and educating leaders is an action organizations can take when looking to reduce absenteeism, turnover, disability duration and frequency. Doing so helps to create healthy conduits for employees while enabling them to connect with much needed stress management and mental health resources.
If you are looking to positively impact your disability management outcomes as well as increase productivity through employee engagement, please contact us — we have the resources and expertise to support your goals.
We’re here to help so you can focus on what you do best.
For 65 years, Mental Health Week has been championed by the Canadian Mental Health Association and this year, the week of May 2-8 will see events all over the country focused on raising awareness of mental health issues Canadian's face.
Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is supported by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) and this year's social media campaign uses the hashtag "Get involved and #GETLOUD" with a special emphasis on seniors who represent the fastest growing demographic in Canada. This important week encourages Canadians to lend their voice to the national conversation and help stop the stigma and discrimination that surrounds mental health problems and illnesses.
The facts are that approximately 7 million or 20 percent of our population live with mental illness and many don't seek treatment because of the stigma and fear of discrimination associated with mental health issues. According to CAMH statistics, "In any given week, at least 500,000 employed Canadians are unable to work due to mental health problems and the economic burden of mental illness in Canada is estimated at $51 billion per year."
The facts reveal the need for continued efforts to address mental illness and while mental health issues extend beyond workplace triggers, there are many reasons why employers are paying closer attention and in many cases, offering more training for leaders and employees. The more employers and their leaders can focus on acknowledging and accommodating employees who experience mental health hurdles, the more engaged the workplace will be and that will also positively affect group benefit claims cost with a specific emphasis on prescription medication, short and long term disability. Mental health problems are the number one cause of disability claims in Canada and 30.4% of all disability claims are attributable to mental health problems (source: Mental Health Works)
There are many ways employers can help raise awareness and educate people leaders about the importance of mental health and wellness within their companies. While many employers have implemented Employee and Family Assistance Programs, more can be done when leaders are educated and trained to see mental illness warning signs and how to appropriately talk to employees about available resources and support through the workplace and in the community.
A national, charitable organization called Partners for Mental Health works with over 140 organizations to participate in its "Not Myself Today" Workplace initiatives. Partners for Mental Health provides HR leaders with workplace tool kits and support to help facilitate conversations around mental health and destigmatize mental illness in the workplace.
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has several resources on its website to support employers looking to promote mental health from accommodating an employee with mental health issues to hiring and retaining people with mental illnesses.
Morneau Shepell, in collaboration with Queen's University, offers The Workplace Mental Health Leadership™ certificate program designed for people leaders and consists of an all-day in-class workshop, three e-learning modules, and three online exams. Bell Canada has put more than 4,000 of their leaders through this program initially called Mental Health@Work Training Program. In this program, managers learn to recognize any possible signs of mental illness and provide initial help by directing employees to available resources as they monitor the situation.
For less involved initiatives, employers can continue to support the use of EAP programs, or find easy ways through bulletins, fact sheets and posters to help promote better mental health as well as information to connect directly with one-on-one confidential counselling. Mental Health Works also provides mental health workshops for employers and employees.
Mental Health Week is an ideal time to dial up employer efforts, but it doesn't have to start or end with this one week. Efforts to educate leaders and encourage employees to seek support and address mental health challenges builds a bridge of understanding, accommodation and engagement that fosters productivity and increases in overall workplace well-being.
For more information about Mental Health Week or ways to drive positive results within your benefits program, please contact us. We're here to help so you can focus on what you do best.
Dave Dickinson, B.Comm, CFP, CLU, CHFC
Experienced Benefits Specialist ready to optimize your group benefits and pension plans.